Is the problematic way husbands and wives argue about marital problems any different from the way Republicans and Democrats argue? Whether we’re talking about professional politicians, husbands and wives, or friends and relatives discussing today’s headine-making political problems, every discussant seems to need to be right, thereby making the opposing point of view wrong.
When a person is accused of being wrong he feels attacked and so will attack back — creating a tit for tat argument that will continue endlessly, perhaps leading to more hurtful attacks and counter-attacks. Problems, whether in marriages, friendships or government, are never resolved this way. Intimate relationships can suffer permanent emotional scarring whether you win or lose the debate.
When we approach debates or arguments with the desire to understand, and perhaps even to learn and appreciate the other person’s point of view, but not to get an agreement, we shift the interaction away from who is right, or more powerful, or more convincing.
In couples counseling, as well as in individual therapy, I have found that understanding both ourselves and others leads to respect, compassion, and acceptance of the justification for various points of view, including our own, requiring no defensive arguments. It also leads to a happier life.
Robert N. Shorin, ACSW, BCD
Robert N. Shorin, ACSW, BCD received his certificate in psychoanalysis from the American Institute in Psychoanalysis. He maintains a private practice in couples and individual therapy in Syosset, Long Island and may be reached at 516-314-1766.
I recently informed one of my patients that I would be cancelling our session in three weeks’ time. He checked his calendar and smiled as he too would be cancelling on that same date. He then proceeded to tell me that he would be traveling with his family and how much he was looking forward to it. A red flag was set off in my mind and after I asked him where he’d be traveling to he replied, “Oh we’re taking the night flight to London.” What he didn’t know was that I too was taking a flight to London that evening. Yet, I thought any number of carriers fly out of JFK to London. So I didn’t think too much about that. Came the night of the flight and my wife and I boarded the plane early, as is my wont, and as I settled down I heard someone say “oh look, it’s Dr. Schwalbe!” And lo and behold my patient sat directly across the aisle from me, not three feet away, for the next seven hours. Awkward yes, yet I think it may well have been more so for him. Clearly something to explore when next we meet in my office after he returns from his trip. Seeing me, his analyst outside of the consulting room may well trigger any number of feelings and transference dynamics….feelings and dynamics we will explore.
Robert Schwalbe, PhD
Robert Schwalbe, PhD maintains an analytically informed therapy practice uniquely devoted to working with men from the ages of 18 to 84, in Manhattan’s Upper Eastside – 19 East 80th Street, Suite 1D. He may be reached at: RobertVSchwalbe@gmail.com or 212-737-1467.
I have a love/hate relationship with the so-called “time-keeping function of the analyst.” Years ago, I surveyed colleagues about how they keep time in sessions. Like me, some of them felt at least mild unease with the end-of-the-hour time check. They’d wait for the patient’s eyes to be averted before checking the time. They setup clocks on the floor, on a book shelf over patients’ shoulders, read the time off their patients’ wrist watches–or, like my analyst, look at their own wristwatches with extravagant boldness. Maybe because of my own fears of abandonment, I was keenly aware in myself of guiltily abandoning my patient, as if it were a crime, a little homicide. Even with patients on the couch looking at the ceiling, the impulse to check the clock was accompanied by this squirmy guiltiness.
So, in those early days of my practice, to ease my discomfort I arranged a timer that would set off a light when the time was about up. As the years passed, and then the decades, I changed technologies. Now, I use an iPhone that buzzes silently in my pocket and that synchronizes with my Apple Watch that buzzes silently on my wrist. But, also true, I no longer feel that barrage of guilty abandonment when I do check the time. I write process notes on an iPad. The time is always right there – if I dare look.
Douglas H. Ingram, MD
Douglas H. Ingram, MD maintains an analytically informed practice on the upper east side of Manhattan. You can visit his web page, www.dhingrammd.com or contact him at (212) 289-4022.
Superhero movies are no strangers to the human psyche. Dark Phoenix, the final film in Fox’s X-Men franchise, deals with Jean Grey, a mutant with telekinetic and telepathic powers, and her yet unrealized ability to be the most powerful and potentially devastating mutant in the world. But rather than being embraced and harnessed, Jean’s mysterious power manifests in an uncontrollable inner entity, named “the Phoenix” in the comic books, presenting as a dissociated split identity.
You don’t need to be a psychoanalyst to get the heavy-handed message in Jean Grey’s conflict with her inner destructive power. The film serves as a cautionary tale about what happens when you suppress your rage, something we’re constantly trying to help patients and trauma survivors to understand. But unlike most superheroes of comic and filmic fame, Jean Grey is a woman, which allows the filmmakers of Dark Phoenix to underscore, even inadvertently, the archaic beliefs around female “hysteria”—that a misbehaving woman is dangerous, unruly, and must be corralled. It would be difficult to fathom the Avengers telling The Hulk that he should maybe get a handle on that anger issue.
A chief grievance with Dark Phoenix is the film’s need to explain away Jean’s conflict and power by (*spoiler alert*) infecting Jean with an alien life form. What this unnecessary choice emphasizes is the damaging idea that anger is not a part of us. It perpetuates the belief that anger is something outside of us to be feared – it can never be our own.
Pallavi Yetur, MA LMHC completed the KHC-AIP post-graduate psychodynamic psychotherapy program. She practices in New York City and provides supervision in the psychodynamic program of the AIP’s Karen Horney Psychotherapy and Psychoanalytic Institute in China.